Sermon December 23, 2018

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1378

December 23, 2018 Matthew 1:18-25

Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)


Advent – The Named Reality”



  • Choosing a Name


For any couple about to have a baby, there is the ongoing conversation about names. What will we name our baby? Whether a boy or a girl you explore multiple options. Family names, popular names, biblical names, or if you live in Hollywood, any crazy name you can imagine. We sometimes consider what a name means. There are books and websites that help us find out the meaning behind names. Edwin means wealthy friend. I’m not going to pick that apart right now! My name was from my grandfather Edwin Potts Pettus. My middle name, the name many people never want revealed, is Hoyt. It came from my father’s best friend, Hoyt Hand. The meaning is not as rich as Edwin. Hoyt is from an old word for stick and was at one time a nickname for thin people. I used to fit that meaning long ago. So I’m a wealthy friend who once was thin.

In the Christmas story the name given to Jesus is offered by an angel, an angel in a dream. I suppose if any parent is visited by an angel to name their child you would pay great attention. I can imagine the scene when Joseph says his name will be Jesus. Someone responds, “Jesus? Why Jesus?” Joseph responds, “Just take my word for it, his name is Jesus.”

The other name in this birth narrative is Immanuel. It was given centuries before the birth of Christ. Isaiah gives the name in a prophetic outburst!


“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”


Another phrase begins that quote in Isaiah 7:14, Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.


This is also a name given by another, in this case, the Lord himself gives the name. None of us could respond like Mary and Joseph when our children ask about how they were named – an angel told us, God told us, and a prophet told us.



  • From the Holy Spirit


Another matter the angel spoke of with Joseph was the source of this impossible pregnancy. Mary was with child from the Holy Spirit. There is a lot of spiritual power revealed in this birth announcement. It comes from a spiritual being, the angel. Names are given from the angel and from the prophetic word. It is given at a time when Joseph is most vulnerable, in his sleep. This announcement comes in a way we would not expect. This announcement, this new reality among us comes in a Spirit powered manner and like any movement of the Spirit in can only be understood by those touched by the Spirit. Isaiah says in another prophecy that God is about to do a new thing (Is. 43:19). That is what the Spirit does, new things even from the beginning of creation, for it was the Spirit who hovered over the face of the waters. God’s Spirit blew life into Adam. God’s Wind blew back the waters at the Red Sea. We see the wondrous impossibilities of God’s Spirit all over the Old Testament. And now, in a dream, through an angel, comes the work of God’s Spirit in Mary. Jesus quotes Isaiah in Luke 4 when He says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” The Spirit of the Lord was/is upon Jesus. And the Holy Spirit will empower the disciples in the book of Acts from the day of Pentecost following. The Spirit is still at work in and through believers and the Church to do the impossible. And most often that work is done in a similar way as it was done with Joseph, when we least expect it, when we are unable to control it, and when we are unsure what we should do.


  • Jesus


Joseph is told to name the child Jesus. In the naming of this child, Joseph, in essence proclaims himself the earthly father. He gives him the name Jesus which in Hebrew is Joshua. Joshua followed after Moses in the history of God’s people and the name in Hebrew and Greek means save. Matthew 1:21 explains that to us, Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. That is, the meaning of His name also reveals the purpose of His birth and life and death and resurrection. The first Joshua saved Israel from their enemies and the second Joshua (Jesus) will save His people from their sins. Jesus is somewhat like those who have come before Him to save, Joshua, Isaiah, Hosea, but He is also much more than those who came before Him. He does not just save from earthly enemies. Jesus saves us from the wrath of God, from the sin and guilt, from death and utter destruction, even from ourselves. He saves us from disease and hopelessness and meaninglessness. It is precisely why the Bible encourages us to call on the name. The name has meaning and purpose, the power to save, and to heal and to grant life. It is also the name Jesus will be known by as he walks the earth and for eternity. And yet, a second name is also given, Immanuel.



  • Immanuel


The other name is Immanuel. It means God with us. Jesus came among us, with us, with those people in the gospel who most needed God with them – the lepers, the lame, the blind, the hungry, the lost. But He also came alongside those who were lost or blind in a spiritual sense, just as He has with us. The Immanuel name is also a part of the identifying role of the Holy Spirit in John 14 when Jesus says He will send us another “to be with us”. The Advocate, Helper, Counselor, the Holy Spirit is the one who comes alongside, to be with us after Jesus ascended into heaven. Just as God has been working since creation by the Holy Spirit, God has also been with us...


God with Moses, Exodus 33:12-16

12 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” 14 And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”


Moses gets the response from God, “My Presence will go with you...” to which Moses responds, “if your presence does not go with me, let’s forget the whole deal!” My paraphrase.


God promises to be with Jeremiah - 1:4-8

4 Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,

5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” 7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.”


And Matthew, who opens the birth of Christ with the promised presence, also closes the gospel with the same promise,


Matthew 28:19-20

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”


Jesus is with us. It is His name, His role, His faithful presence.


  • The Named Reality


The named reality is Jesus. It is the name that brings power for salvation and our trust in that name brings assurance of our salvation. He is the One through whom we know God and who has given His live for our salvation. There is no other name by which we are other name (Acts 4:12)! People can try to say there are many ways to God, but our confession and proclamation is made through one name, Jesus. Jesus is the name. To save is His purpose. It is written in the name.


The named reality is Immanuel. It is the name that defines God’s act of presence. There is no greater comfort than God’s presence. It was a request from Moses that God be with him. It is the promise to the prophets. It is the promise of God from beginning to end in Matthew’s gospel.


In the Named Reality is the power salvation and our trust in that salvation. In the Named Reality is the safety of Presence (capital P), faith in promises, comfort in having a name to put with it. The Named Reality enables us to identify our God. I often think about names and how names bring meaning to us. We think of a friend or family member by name and the name conjures up memories. Sometimes the name is negative and we might ask people to never speak that name again. Naming has power. When we are sick and there is a time when we don’t know why, even if it is something bad, to have it named is power. We know what we are dealing with and the fear of the unnamed is overcome. We love to be able to put a name to a face and often feel embarrassed when we cannot.

When we share the name of Jesus with others, we are giving them power. We are praying that they may come to know the name and thus to know salvation. Jesus calls us to trust in His salvation and in His Presence. That means, He calls us to trust in His name and names. The saving work of Jesus is that known through faith that we are safe in Him, loved by His, and provided for by Him. That trust is bolstered by the knowledge that God is with us. So Psalm 23 is bold to declare, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” The One present is the One who saves. The One who walks with us is the One who loves us so deeply that He would die for us.

Another preacher* wrote this about these names:

I will tell you why I think this is important. There are, in the world and in the church, lots of people who think that there is no saving power in their lives and so they must manage for themselves. And when we manage for ourselves, we grow anxious and angry and greedy and hurtful. There are lots of people in the world who live as though God were not with us, as though we were alone in the world. And if we are alone in the world, we must have our own way, we must hit our at others who do not agree with us, and we become a destructive force in our communities and in our families (pg. 23).


Lots of people do not trust in the names of Jesus and Immanuel. Christmas is a time to renew our trust in the One who saves and who is with us. It is a time to draw ourselves out of the world that would have us believe that there is no One who can or will save. It is a time to remember that God is with us even when the world tells us that is not true. Christmas is a time to rekindle a certain spirit of joy and peace in knowing that God has birthed a new reality, a named reality. And the name is Jesus. And the name is Immanuel. Come, Lord Jesus. Come, O come, Immanuel. May Your name be proclaimed into all the earth. Amen.




* This message was inspired by a series of sermons from The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann, Vol. 2, Pgs. 3-24.

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